Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), directed by Roy Ward Baker.

At last, we know the true identity of Jack the Ripper. Dr Jekyll requires female hormones for his life extension experiments, all to the greater good of mankind, of course. Exhausting the supply of ready cadavers he employs grave robbers to secure more material, by whatever means necessary. When their careers are terminated by an angry mob, the Doctor hits the foggy streets of Whitechapel himself, surgical instruments in hand.

Self experimenting with his new elixer produces an unexpected side effect.

The concept was originally offered as a joke at the studio lunch table and with a title like this you might expect Hammer Films has finally gone round the bend into camp and comic mugging. But no: it still has their trademark seriousness of purpose and realistic costume tone. It is in fact quite well done and is perhaps the best work from both of the leads.

The transgressive titillation level is nothing like the ad campaign promises. The only nudity are flashes of T&A by Martine Beswick (two Bond films, two cave-girl films). Caroline Munro and Julie Ege were offered the role but balked at the nudity. Beswick was willing but stipulated limts ("top, not full") and then had to fight it out again during filming.

They get quite a lot out of the sexual adventure anyway. Hyde is pleased to find herself female, admiring herself in the mirror and squeezing her own boobs. She looks down farther and just as we are thinking "Oh, no they're not really going to..." we see she is looking at her man hands. Whenever Jekyll and Hyde fight over the body, each sees the other's hands as a prelude to the transition.

It becomes a test of wills: who will dominate, the masculine or the femminine parts of the psyche?

Hyde seduces Jekyll's best friend and the brother of the young woman upstairs who has a crush him. Imagine how they'd develop that today, how explicit the gender-bending. Even in 1971 the audience must have been thinking "Well, this is something new".

Note that we are mashing up not just RL Stevenson's story with Jack the Ripper, but also bring in historical graverobbers Burke and Hare, who inspired another Stevenson story, The Body Snatcher (1945).

A superior score with more orchestral bass than usual. The opening credits are candles against a plush red cloth -- later Hyde's dress -- with romantic music. Which is pretty funny given what happens later.

The entire production is filmed on sound stages but that works in this case: foggy Victorian London is claustrophobic anyway.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. A lot of the movie is in shadows and fog, but in brightly lit closeups the image is very fine in both color and detail.

Two commentary tracks: Martine Beswick with the director and producer, recorded for an earlier DVD, and another with film scholar Bruce G. Hallenbeck.